LAKEWOOD, Ohio — What do you get when you combine a passion for baking and nutrition, a desire to help others, and one Lakewood teenager? Meaningful Muffins.
Susie McGowan, a junior at Saint Joseph Academy, may be just 16 years old, but she’s volunteered in her community for years.
“Through school and also on my own, I've been volunteering at the Bishop Cosgrove Center, the Food Bank, and a few other organizations around Cleveland that focus on nutrition and getting food to those who need it,” McGowan said.
McGowan said she’s always loved baking. In June of this year, she began planning and getting ready for this new effort, Meaningful Muffins. In August, she held her first event and began distributing muffins.
“I thought it'd be a good way to pair both what I'm selling with what I'm trying to do,” McGowan said.
With money she raised baking and selling muffins to friends and family, McGowan was able to make a big donation of toys for children to a local women’s shelter, with help from Target, at the end of November.
McGowan has been donating toys for kids to that women’s shelter for a few years now. In eighth grade, she did a service project through her grade school, Lakewood Catholic Academy. She chose to focus on domestic violence and picked that women’s shelter as the recipient of her toy donation.
Now, she’s turned her focus to making healthy lunches for residents at Malachi House, “a home for folks who have a terminal prognosis and cannot afford end-of-life care,” according to Emily Chupp, events and marketing coordinator for Malachi House.
“We are a home for those folks, and then we work with the area hospice organizations, and they come in and give the hospice care, and we do the feeding and the loving and the cleaning and that type of thing,” Chupp said.
Malachi House, which can house 15 residents at one time, receives no government funding. Chupp said they rely heavily on donors, both individuals and organizations, to keep the organization running.
The pandemic has meant Malachi House can’t take as many donations of physical goods as usual, due to a smaller staff and no guests allowed, according to Chupp. The organization has asked its donors to shift to monetary donations instead.
“It takes a lot of effort to get through those and organize them and make sure they're not expired or things that we can actually use, and if they're not things we can use, where they can go, that someone else can use them,” Chupp said.
She said physical donations can still sometimes be accommodated.
“If it's something that we can do where we maybe do a handoff outside, that type of thing will work. So it's definitely case by case,” Chupp said.
McGowan said she was familiar with Malachi House through school, youth group and other projects.
“[I’m] really impressed with all they do to both give out hot meals, and even during the pandemic, how they managed to continue giving out bagged meals,” McGowan said. “Being that my project is primarily focused on bagged lunches, I thought they'd be a great organization to distribute to.”
She added that the muffins she’s baking and selling are healthy.
“They're based on like nutritional research on how to change them to make them healthier, which kind of goes along with the food packs cause it's focused not only on getting food to the homeless, but also making sure that the food is nutritious and balanced,” McGowan said.
Chupp said McGowan’s donation efforts will inspire others.
“It's so heartwarming to see someone take the initiative on their own, first of all, that someone that is just feeling really moved to do that work for us,” Chupp said. “And we so appreciate that and that’s also going to inspire other people. So even if you're not able to do so much just yourself, you're also inspiring other people and that's going to be a huge movement of motivation for everyone.”
Chupp noted that the executive director of Malachi House, Judy Ghazoul Hilow, is an alumna of Saint Joseph Academy.
“She is just so happy,” Chupp said. “And in normal times, we do have volunteers from Saint Joe's. The girls will come in and do, you know, help clean around the house or sometimes they’ll make a meal, so this is just such a wonderful way to continue our connection there. And she's so proud of being an alum there and all of the girls that have gone through that system.”
McGowan said the response to her muffins has been “really positive” and that both her customers and those who have helped support her have been great.
Her advice to others who want to do something like this: “Just go for it.”
“Especially if you're my age or even younger, I would say just if you think you have an idea, you can definitely go for it,” McGowan said. “I couldn't imagine being able to do as much as I've been able to do. If you have an idea and you're passionate about it, then you can make it happen.”
She encouraged anyone to help in any way they can, noting that all charities are always looking for help “and you can really make a difference in someone's life.”
Her mother, Margie Wright-McGowan, said she has had a passion for helping others since she was young, noting that even before Meaningful Muffins, she would use her own money from babysitting or birthdays to buy toys for the women’s shelter.
“To see her take kind of her brains and her initiative and then turn it into something bigger, it’s just remarkable,” Wright-McGowan said. “And she has a pretty good thing going with a lot of followers and people that want to jump on her cause, because they know there's so much need out there. So I'm just extraordinarily proud, so is her dad, that she's taking all of her talents and she's using them for good.”
Susie McGowan said Meaningful Muffins is always accepting donations, both through the muffins as well as monetary and in-kind donations.
“We’ll use that money to continue through after the month of December, continue to create food packs for those who need it, and also helping to help not only us, but other local groups too,” McGowan said. “We actually donate the goods and they create the food packs, so it gives other people a chance to be involved too, and then we distribute them to local providers.”
Wright-McGowan added that 100% of the money she raises “goes right back into the effort.”
“We drive her around and deliver the muffins. It's a great family activity,” Wright-McGowan said. “Any and all donations will go right back into local charities, primarily focused on hunger.”
Whether it’s making a bagged lunch or volunteering with the food bank, Wright-McGowan said those who can should do what they’re able to make others’ lives easier.
“I think you just want to inspire people to do all they can right now. Everyone has gone through a challenging time,” she said, adding, “There's a lot of people in need, and so we just hope that people are inspired by Susie’s story and they take it as a call to action.”